Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Mothers and Daughters

Kindness Matters | Memories

kindness

This post from January 2016 came to mind this morning.
A sobering read, given the current state of our disunion.

My Mom died in 1999. During the last year of her life she showed me a photo of a childhood friend, a write-up about her, and an obituary.

Sybil was a few years younger than I. Her mother kept the outdoor hog pen I describe in my poem, 1951. To me, Sybil was a friend in name only. I was put off by her lack of manners, her unkempt clothes, constant problems at home, poor grammar and general lack of social graces. I was also embarrassed to be seen with her.

Sybil and I were thrown together in grade school. We were scholarship students—unable to pay our own ways. I saw her as ‘poor,’ though I didn’t identify myself that way. We lived in a big house on the river. She lived about three-quarters of a mile down the road toward the city, just beyond colored town, in a rickety old structure beside a large hog pen and across the road from the tavern.

Sybil lacked social graces and, in my eyes, physical beauty. She was sometimes rough, callous, loud, rude and sarcastic. She was an only child, living with her mother on the second floor of a now closed, dilapidated gas station.

The hog pen sat beside this structure. About 20-25 adult hogs roamed free in a large fenced-in area and wallowed in muddy pig slop laced with decaying food scraps. To say they stank would be an understatement.

Sybil’s mom owned and cared for the hogs. They were her ticket to food and money—at least enough for survival. She lived with a man on the second floor of the old filling station.

Were they married? I was never sure. He liked alcohol. They both liked cigarettes. They didn’t always get along. Sometimes Sybil got the worst of it. Sometimes she missed school.

As chance would have it, for a couple of years Sybil’s mom took turns with my father picking us all up after school in downtown Savannah, and driving us 15 miles home.

In spite of my impressions about Sybil, she became a sometime ‘friend’ who reminded me daily of what I did not want to be. She didn’t seem to have other friends, and assumed that because we rode together after school, I was her friend.

When Sybil’s mom came to pick us up, I held back. I pretended I didn’t see the noisy old run-down car waiting right there in front of the school. I didn’t want my friends to see me getting into it. They might think it was our car.

So I waited until the last minute, suddenly ‘saw’ the car, got into the back seat and immediately bent over as though I’d just dropped something on the floor. I didn’t sit up straight until we were at least a block away from the school.

My wish to distance myself from Sybil and her life generated nothing but guilt, shame and anger in me. Being seen with Sybil was not an asset.

Mom, however, stayed in touch regularly with Sybil and with her mom. She treated Sybil with kindness. She visited her mom, helped her out in small ways, and seemed to enjoy her company.

A few years before Mom died, Sybil got in touch with her. She had graduated from high school and studied to be an officer in a military unit. She brought Mom a photo of herself in uniform—beautiful, serene and confident. It was her way of thanking Mom for taking an active interest not just in her, but in her mom. Sadly, Sybil died about a year before my Mom died.

You might say I had a ‘normal’ child-like response to Sybil and her mom. I don’t know. Contempt is a learned behavior, often accompanied by invisible self-contempt. Sybil and I were damaged goods. She may have recognized herself in me; I didn’t recognize myself in her. Not back then.

Nonetheless, we were and are sisters, if not friends.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 January 2016
Image from trans4mind.com

My mother’s spirit

My mother’s spirit
Came calling last night
I saw her footprints
In this morning’s snow
Precise and measured
She passed quietly
Beneath my window
Step by small-hooved step
Down the driveway
Before crossing over
Into the woods beyond
Our house asleep
And dreaming

I think they were the prints of a red fox–which reminded me of my mother’s bright red coat. She would have loved the brilliant rainbow umbrella, and the fashionable leggings and boots.

The tracks down our driveway this morning told me I’m not alone. Neither are my three sisters, each of us with our own mother-daughter relationship to ponder. Mother Eileen died in mid-February 1999, twenty years ago, seven years before our sister Diane died of ALS in mid-February 2006.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 February 2019
Photo found at fiftiness.com

I’m not my mother

I’m not my mother
Or the young girl
She wanted me to be
Surrounded by friends
Pretty with curls in my hair
Dressed in cheery colors
Enjoying a childhood
Unlike hers lived in fear
Of gossip and taunts
From girls going nowhere
Despite their self-assured
Superiority unknown
In my mother’s world

I fought against my mother. Refused her regular advice about clothes and colors. Felt ashamed of her outgoing ways and her polio-scarred body; her face devoid of make-up. Nothing could hide the tremor on the left side of her face. Or the sight of her estranged mother arriving at grade school, dressed like a diva bearing gifts to her royal daughter.

I endured with chagrin and barely suppressed anger her attempts to make my straight thin hair curly and fulsome, like her beautiful auburn hair.

And…she taught me to play the piano. Cook. Clean. Starch and iron clothes. Make beds. Fold towels and sheets. Organize drawers and cupboards. Things her absent mother never taught her.

There’s a saying I remember from my growing-up years. I didn’t care for it; my mother did. Her kitchen wall hanging proclaimed it boldly: “Bloom where you’re planted.” I couldn’t; neither could she.

Two lost souls thrown together. One extroverted, the other introverted. Both lonely; intelligent; eldest daughters; desperate to be loved and heard; musicians from the inside out. Overshadowed and dominated by a world of men. Unable to play and sing our songs freely without fear of having our wings clipped.

And yet…every time I read My mother’s body, I feel a tug at my heart. Pulling me back toward her. Not out of pity, but with understanding that’s still taking root in me. Softening me toward her and toward myself. Especially when I’m playing the piano, and feel some of her musicality playing through me.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 February 2019
Photo of winter snowdrops found at pinterest.com

My mother’s body

Time
and again
This is my body
broken

My mother’s body
haunts me
A living reminder

I stare through windows
wondering
how we traveled
so lonely
for so long

Misplaced
inadvertent flowers
bloom
without rhyme or reason
out of season
now out of time

Looking
into a mirror
I catch her
watching me
wondering

Lost birds
flutter on the ground
unable to spread
their wings and soar
together

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 January 2019
Painting by Natalya Zaytseva; found at ssatchairt.com

A Birthday Gift to Myself

Dear Friends,

Yesterday I turned 75. No fanfare. Just a quiet day at home enjoying my retirement family: D, Smudge and Marie. Plus telephone conversations with our two children. And a walk outside with D in cold, windy weather.

At this age there aren’t many things I want for myself. Nonetheless, during a conversation with a friend earlier this week I identified something I’ve wanted all my life.

When I was 15 years old Mrs. Hanks, my piano teacher from when I was 9, asked about my plans after high school graduation.

‘I’m thinking about going to Bible college.’

‘Have you ever thought about going to a music conservatory and majoring in piano?’

Fear gripped my heart. I would love to do this! Yet I had no confidence in myself beyond what I’d already done, and no vision for what this might mean for me.

Mrs. Hanks said she had a friend teaching in the best music program in the state of Georgia. In fact, she’d already spoken with her, and this woman would be delighted to meet me and talk with me about scholarship possibilities.

When I told my parents about this, my father said he thought I would be better ready for life if I enrolled in a Bible college in South Carolina. Some of my friends had already studied there, and he was certain I would get a good education there.

I felt torn between fear and excitement about the unknown, and my desperate need not to fail. I also knew I would make it at the Bible college. So I chose the Bible college.

Many times I’ve looked back at that decision and wondered what might have been. Music has always been where my heart feels most at home.

Thankfully, beginning with the Bible college, music has always been part of my life. Sometimes for pay; sometimes as a volunteer. Even when I was a professor and dean at the seminary, music informed everything I did. It made its way into my thought processes, the way I said or wrote things, my imagination about this world, and about this huge universe presided over by the Greatest Musician of All.

Now I’m 75. My fingers and reflexes aren’t what they used to be. Even so, I long to recover some of the freedom I used to have at the keyboard.

Even more important, my mother wanted me to become a musician. Not a famous musician, but the musician she already heard in me at age 5 when she began teaching me to play the piano.

So a few days ago I contacted a musician friend and asked her to recommend a piano coach for me. Someone who can help me, at this age, to regain some of what the years have taken. My happy birthday gift to myself. And maybe for my mother.

Right now I’m a 75-year old kid who can’t wait to open a present I’ve wanted for too many years!

Thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 November 2018
Photo found at birthdaycakeformom.com

My Mother’s Depression

My mother’s depression
Is not my depression

It doesn’t belong to me
Nor did I invite it in to stay
Yet it lives in me now and again
A link to this woman who bore me

Deftly intertwined it moves
As though it were mine
A weight I bear unbidden
My lot in this half-life

What would it be like
To let it go as an alien?
To visit without falling into the pit?
To understand it from her point of view?

I’ve been turning things like this over in my mind and heart for the last week. The insight isn’t mine. It’s a gift from a friend who has walked with me for several decades.

‘My’ depression isn’t mine. Yes, it’s real and present. Yet it was and still is my mother’s deep depression, fed by my father’s behavior toward her and toward me.  The sad price of being a gifted white woman in post-depression (ironic) and post-World War II life in the USA.

Held back, kept in check, insanely busy with housework and babies, submissive preacher’s wife, versatile church musician without a pay check, resourceful volunteer ever ready to help others in return for nothing, cheery and even-tempered, industrious and persistent, she held it all together in her bent and broken body.

Uncomplaining, weary, in pain 24/7 and depressed. Sometimes crying herself to sleep. Other times waking with horrifying cramps.

My heart goes out to her today in ways it couldn’t years ago.

Yet I can’t accept her depression as my depression. It isn’t mine. This one insight invites me to stay connected to her reality without making it my reality. I can only breathe my air, not hers.

These days it seems ever more acceptable to trash women of all colors and make them into problems they are not. In response, I want to do justice to the woman my mother was while showing mercy to her as the woman she could not be or become.

She was not the problem then, just as I am not the problem now.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 November 2018
Book cover photo found at bookdepository.com

My Daughter My Teacher

‘My daughter my teacher’
The phrase arrives unbidden
Turning it over I find
What was denied
What was forbidden
What was scorned
Though I searched for it with all my heart

What does it mean
To grow up female
Loved
Free of being shamed
Free of control and contempt
That sucks joy and creativity
Out of airways
Leaving a void gasping
Not outgrown or filled
Without pain
And the horror of knowing
It didn’t have to be like this
And it was

Our daughter has been a free, creative spirit from the beginning. I can’t count how many times I’ve said, “I don’t know how this happened.”

How could it be that this painfully shame-driven introverted woman mothered this free introverted spirit who follows her heart no matter what others think?

From the beginning, without shame, she wrote what she heard, saw and felt. She still composes and performs music that come from places I’ve never been—literally, or in my heart.

The truth is simple. I never gave her any of that. That was and is her gift. Her voice. Her creativity. Her vision. Her truth.

And yet, I did give her something. I gave her some of what I was never given. I think it came from my fierce determination to make space for her to be herself and our daughter. All at the same time.

This makes my heart happy and brings a smile to my face. It helps me see some of what I missed growing up. It also gives me a different mirror to consult. The mirror of my mothering. Even though I felt like a bumbling pseudo-mother from time to time.

Thanks for listening!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 August 2018
Photo found at katiedissertation.weebly.com

distant voices | Mom

distant voices
ride waves of morning air
cicadas drone

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s birthday. Born in 1921, she died in 1999. Today would have been her 97th birthday. Though I’ve done a lot of work on my relationship with her, I’m still finding words to describe the impact she had on my life.

My mother’s main task in life was to raise four daughters and to be unquestioningly obedient to one husband. Though not in that order. For most of her life, loyalty to him came first, not her daughters.

In her last years of life, for reasons I don’t understand, something clicked on for her. More than once she became unusually feisty with Dad, letting him know (with witnesses present) exactly where he stood and didn’t stand with her. She didn’t shut him out completely. She did, however, shut him out and down on more than one occasion. As though she’d reached her last straw.

It’s difficult to imagine Mom as a role model for me in my marriage to D. I don’t have memories of her being particularly affectionate with my father (or with me). Obedient? Absolutely. Quiet and industrious? Absolutely. On his side when he was discouraged? Absolutely. Modest and unassuming? Absolutely.

But not an equal partner given to overt affection. No matter how you describe it. When she married Dad in 1942, she abandoned huge pieces of her one-and-only life. It was part of the deal.

Today I applaud and love her for her courage, persistence, creativity, love of making music, intelligence, resourcefulness, and ability to run circles around my father intellectually without putting herself at risk. She was a survivor whose physical voice and body were impaired by polio from the time she was 28 years old. Yet she rode the waves and storms of life gracefully until she just couldn’t do it anymore.

My one huge regret is that she didn’t advocate on my behalf, or question my father’s beatings of me. I know she knew. Everyone in the house knew. Perhaps she also knew what that would mean for her, and the cost was too high to bear. The lives of women are fraught with life-endangering choices. She made hers, and to her credit, never stopped loving me, even though she didn’t know how to come to my defense.

If she were here today, I, ever the introvert, would take her for a lovely stroll in her wheelchair around our neighborhood, and let her meet and greet some of my wonderfully extroverted neighbors. Then we would go through the neighborhood park, enjoying this lovely summer day together, listening to the birds, and meeting and greeting every friendly dog along the way. Plus their owners, of course.

And I would hug her close, giving her what I can.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2018
Photo found at mybrownnewfies.com

Comin’ Up From Behind – Sherry Fraser/Two Ton Boa

I’ve been singing this in my head all week! My favorite line: “She’s got the truth and her tongue for a slingshot.” All put together in a rollicking score by our daughter, Sherry Fraser of Two Ton Boa. I’ve included the lyrics below my comments.

Sherry published this in May 2000 (Kill Rock Stars). It was later re-recorded by her old boyfriend, John Wozniak of Marcy Playground, as the trailer to the movie “Cruel Intentions.”

I prefer Sherry’s original recording. Not just because she’s my daughter (!), but because this is a woman’s song. It captures the anger and fury of a woman who’s being used and abused, plus her determination to “take a mighty swipe at the high hogs….” All in a lively, upbeat rag that throws the words right down there in front of you—dished up hot on your plate whether you like them or not.

I’ll never have Sherry’s voice. But I have her spirit and her determination. Thank you, Sherry, for showing me how it’s done.

Comin’ Up From Behind – Sherry Fraser/Two Ton Boa

She’s an eight ball
She’s rolling faster than a whitewall
She’s got an avalanche packed in a snowball
She’s losing all her leeches like a stonewall…she’s loaded up

She’s the underdog
Gonna take a mighty swipe at the high hogs
While they’re sipping on their tricks in a thick fog
Making eyes at the girls like bullfrogs…I’m telling you sir

She’s coming up from, coming up from,
Comin’ up, coming up from behind, yeah!
She’s coming up from, coming up from, coming up
Coming up from behind

You’d like her hanging
Like a sneaker on a live wire dangling
While your wall street pockets are jangling
With the hollow jackpot of your rich kid games

It’s a longshot
She’s got the truth and her tongue for a slingshot
But she’s taking steady aim at the big shots
It’s hard to miss the ruling bullies on the blacktop…

You better pocket your turf
She’s coming up from behind

You had her hanging
Like a sneaker on a live wire dangling
While your gold lined pockets were jangling
With the hollow jackpot of your wretched games

She caught your sick lie
It was creeping in the shadow of your white smile
Lurking underneath the cover of your bedroom eyes
Were you greasing up plans for your small fry?

You want her talking up to you
Where you float like a royal balloon-o
Your ego swollen to the size of the moon…well
I think you found somebody to cut you down to size!

Wishing you a happy weekend!

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2018

HERarchy


When I was growing up, it seemed the only way to succeed in my white conservative Christian circles was by toeing the line. Never acting out or acting up. It was the only safe way to get ahead in life or at least keep up with the boys.

As it turned out, it wasn’t safe. I didn’t get ahead. And I never could keep up with the boys.

Being the ‘good girl’ type (at least on the outside), I didn’t experience vicious playground hazing. Probably because I wasn’t threatening to girls who seemed to know all about boys and makeup, movies and sex.

Though I desperately wanted to be included, I didn’t want undue attention. So I modulated my voice, made sure I didn’t offend anyone, smiled a lot, and kept my mouth shut. I was no big deal. No threat to anyone.

That’s why I’m blown away when I listen to my daughter – so like and so unlike I am. She wasn’t a rebel growing up. She was simply herself. Bold and introverted. Intuitive and creative. Her music began early and still takes my breath away. How did this voice happen?

Below are most of the lyrics from one of her recorded songs, followed by a YouTube recording. It’s Sherry’s take on playground politics among girls young and old. Another way of describing the Divide and Conquer Club.

HERarchy

Misfit, misfit, got no sense
Sitting like a chicken on the chain link fence
Never picks a side, all she does is cry
How many teardrops can she hide
you MISFIT MISFIT throw the dog a biscuit!
How many kicks until she licks it?
1, 2, 3, 4, FIVE

This situation’s hopeless
No matter what I do
These small-town girls will hate me
Since I stepped outside their rules

I see their
Angel faces twist into riddles
Sisters on a rampage with the scissors
Tongues packing sweet words like pistols
Firing on my back like heat-seeking missiles

pleading crying cannot satisfy
the cruel appetites of GIRLS! GIRLS!

What do they see?
Why are these crosshairs on me?
What do they hear?
The voice of envy sneer…?
I’m a spotlight thief!
I won’t take tea
I won’t take lessons in how to be
Seen
Not heard
I’m a misfit little bird
Dodging bigger beaks
On a playground for

GIRLS! GIRLS!

Look who’s all alone –
It’s the one-woman show!
Who’s got a stone?
Don’t you know –
Our status grows
When we tear into a threat
With a fine tooth comb!
She’s all alone –
Somebody please throw the dog bone!

Angel faces twist into riddles
Sisters on a rampage with the scissors
Tongues packing mind fucks like pistols
Breathing down my neck like heat seeking missiles

Running hiding
can’t get by
the vicious social politics of
GIRLS! GIRLS! ….

©Sherry Fraser (Two Ton Boa), recorded on Parasiticide, published 2009

Here’s the entire recording. Sherry wrote the lyrics and music, and sings the lead.

Here’s to more women willing to shine a light on what’s happening in our social and political playgrounds today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 March 2018
Photo of playground girls found at dreamstime.com

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